CENTREVILLE — The Wye River Upper School Class of 2020 celebrated its commencement ceremony Wednesday, May 20, for its eight seniors via Zoom to maintain social distancing.
Among them were Josh Hansen of Centreville; Emma Meenan of Romancoke; Adam Shipley of Lothian; Macyn Poag of Bowie; Chris Brown of Crofton; Christian Fleming of Gambrills; Gabe Lake of Crownsville; and Rachel Bishop of Millersville.
The ceremony started on a patriotic note with the Pledge of Allegiance by WRUS freshman Chris Windsor and the Nichols sisters performing the national anthem. Chrissy Aull, WRUS head of school, presented the opening remarks and told students this is the year to go out to a new adventure, even though a major curveball was thrown during the students’ graduation this year.
“Out these doors we go. The nine of us, together, ready for our next adventures, you onto college or a career, and me onto grandkids and gardens,” said Aull, who will be retiring on June 30. “Do what you must to protect your physical and mental health, and those near you.”
Four students did a pre-recorded speech for the ceremony including Brown, who said he was thankful for the administrators and teachers for the amount of attention that they provided to each senior.
“It is truly incredible how each student can get to know (them) on a level that is far greater than most teachers have the students,” said Brown. “Please note that I will take the lessons that I have learned with me and always remember the good times I had here at Wye River.”
Shipley said during his school years at WRUS, he could not believe how the time passed so quickly and that he will treasure the memories he had during his school years.
“I feel a little sad that our class cannot be together, but I appreciate what my teachers did for me. I hope when this is all over, we can see each other again,” said Shipley.
Marissa Muro, music and theater arts teacher, performed “I’ll be seeing you,” after the speeches.Awards were also presented during the virtual ceremony including: the Founders Award and the Wye River Environmental Inquiry Award to Shipley; the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Award for Loving Kindness and the Experiential Learning Award to Hansen, who was the first recipient; and the Senior Portfolio Award to Meenan.
Kara Frison, former WRUS administrative assistant, delivered the commencement address and used the metaphor, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” when referring to life after WRUS. She also encouraged students to keep on learning, “as there is always room for improvement.”
“The lemonade recipe you may have enjoyed at the age of 18 may tweak by the time you are 30, and that is perfectly fine,” Frison said. “Be prepared to hear ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ more often, but do not let that stop you from working hard. You (seniors) will determine if those things make your lemonade bitter or better.”
A montage was then played of what occurred during the surprise social distancing Commencement Caravan ceremony that took place Friday, May 15. Staff members provided all seniors a small ceremony at their home that included a custom banner of congratulations, cupcakes, yard signs, flowers, and custom T-shirts and other goodies.
Aull presented each senior with a white rose and his or her diploma. Aull then asked the graduate to present the rose to their parents and offer their thanks and gratitude for making the WRUS experience possible. Pictures with proud families and delighted graduates followed every ceremony.
Within 15 minutes at each home, WRUS staff members climbed back into a caravan of vehicles, and followed online apps to travel to the next senior’s house.
This unique kind of senior ceremony was something Aull had in mind after looking at examples of staff drive-bys that were dropping off student items at their homes.
The importance of the sentiment behind providing her seniors their diplomas and gifts as a different kind of celebration was also paramount to Aull, she said. She, along with the WRUS faculty and staff, thought students deserved more than a congratulatory note through the mail.
Aull pitched the idea by email to a small group of administrators and teachers, with everyone quickly on board.
Nicole Sophocles, WRUS director of College and Career, took Aull’s idea and made it her own and started making plans to honor the graduating class with whom she had grown close.
“We started an event planning committee the second week school was remote to begin the brainstorming for graduation and other spring events. Part of our committee spoke with seniors in a Google Meet and then also with the parents of graduates,” Sophocles said.
The goal was simple — to gather information on what families considered the most important aspects of celebrating graduation.
Sophocles arranged for the surprise caravan to visit each of the eight seniors at their homes. She communicated with parents covertly, mapped out the houses and times and gave the parents notice of when they would be visiting. They also made the request to keep the event a surprise by suggesting their student dress in cap and gown for front porch photos.
The day of the commencement caravan ceremony, Sophocles regarded this as a major accomplishment after looking at the face of her seniors.
“Seeing the students’ surprised faces and the joy of their parents was worth every moment of planning,” Sophocles said. “We were able to create a private graduation ceremony for each student and even though we are putting together a great virtual ceremony for Wednesday, May 20. They will remember this for many years to come.”
ChyRisse Poag of Bowie was among the parents behind the planning of the ceremony and surprised her daughter, Macyn Poag, picture-ready outside of their home. She followed the directions the school gave to create the ruse of a mock photo shoot and was happy to see the caravan round the corner honking the horn of the buses with both sets of grandparents on FaceTime.
“The joy, love and tears were on full display on my front yard,” said ChyRisse. “It took everything in me to keep my social distancing cool and not hug each and every one of them! WRUS made what could have been a very drab situation into the greatest celebration we could have ever asked for!”
Macyn Poag was also stunned by the ceremony. She called it an out-of-body experience, and something that she never expected.
“The unique ceremony that was thrown at my house was better than any traditional ceremony that I could have ever asked for,” Macyn said. “Being able to attend WRUS was an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. The close-knit community of teachers and students that want to see you grow and succeed is truly amazing.”